Early History of Ceres, NY- PA

First Permanent1White Settlement in the Area

by Dan Maxson

   When Francis King came to this area2, he came as an agent of John Keating and others to explore a vast area of northern Lycoming County. Keating’s group was considering the purchase of an extensive purchase from William Bingham, Esq., if the lands were found to be suitable. His report was evidently suitable as Keating’s group purchased a large tract of land.

   In the spring of 1797, Francis King engaged a few men and hired a boat. They set out for a previously selected area, which they named Ceres. They traveled down the east branch of the Susquehanna to Northumberland; then up the west branch to the mouth of the Sinnamahoning, which was the last white settlement (present-day area of Sinnamahoning). They then proceeded to Driftwood and then overland to Canoe Place (Port Allegany). Canoes were made and they traveled down the Allegheny to the mouth of the Oswayo (now Portville, NY), then up the Oswayo to Ceres. The original site for Ceres is approximately one mile south of its current location.

   At the Ceres site, land was cleared, planted and a cabin erected. Further exploration revealed three families at Dykes Settlement (now Andover, NY) and two more families on Pine Creek in Tioga County, PA. These people were the Kings’ nearest neighbors.

   In the Spring of 1798 Francis King brought his family to Ceres. In September of that year, Mrs. King (formerly Kathrine Kenway3) gave birth to a baby girl, who lived but a few months. This would be the first birth, death, and burial4 in what is now McKean County, PA.

   The first sawmill was built in 1798 nearby. Remains of the old mill race to carry water to the mill may be seen upstream from the Barbertown Road. A grist mill was added a few years later. In the same year, the Society of Friends sent Joel Swayne, Halliday Jackson, and Henry Simmons as missionaries to the Indians on the reservation. This was some 60 miles downstream from Ceres. In those early days, trips were made downriver to Pittsburgh for provisions. Mrs. King died shortly after one such trip in 1801.

Some of the earliest settlers who stayed in the area are as follows:

1802 – John Bell, his wife, his son, and his step children Thomas, John, and May Bee. Bell Run, Bell Brook, and Bee Hollow are area names that go back to these hardy pioneers. The William Bell, who was the first settler in Ceres, NY (1817), was John’s son. 

1802 – Thomas Smith, his wife Elizabeth and 4 sons Thomas, John, William, and Henry
This family settled in the area of the current location of Ceres, PA.

1802 – William Lister. He settled in present day Myrtle, near John Bell, Sr.

   Another early arrival to Ceres was William Ayers, his wife Mary, and three children. Little is known of the Ayres family in Ceres, except that William purchased the only slave ever in Ceres. This family probably removed to the Coudersport area about 1908. His family were the first white settlers in what is now Potter County.

   In early October, 1803, snow fell and protected the crops such that the early settlers had fresh vegetables at Christmas. Later, the snow accumulated to five foot depths and resulted in a great flood in 1804.

   Most of the early settlers of the area were English tradesmen. Francis King was a surveyor and copper engraver. His surveying equipment is now in the possession of the Oswayo Valley Historical Society. Thomas Smith was a miller, John Bell was a cabinet maker, and his son John was a saddle and harness maker. James King was a tanner and currier. He built a tannery on Mill Creek (Kings Run), but hides were scarce and the tannery failed to be profitable. Many of the settlers to come were from England.

  The previous history takes us into a new era for Ceres. The government changes, Angelica was settled in 1801, Olean was settled in 1804, and Shinglehouse5 in 1806. The population of Ceres Township in 1910 included 26 households and 147 individuals6. Surprisingly absent from this census is M. Generet, who built the Shingled House. The address for early settlers was Cerestown, Lycoming County, until 1804 when McKean County was formed and Ceres was the only township in the county.

   In 1805 John C. Brevoost was appointed Justice of the Peace. The Governor of Pennsylvania appointed Thomas Smith, John Bell, Sr., Samson Crawford, and John C. Brevoost as Trustees in November of the same year. The first election was held in March, 1906, at which time Francis King and Samson Crawford were elected Supervisors of Ceres Township. During the next 55 years Ceres Township became smaller as other townships were formed in McKean County.

   The first recorded marriage in Ceres occurred in 1807 when John C. Brevoost united Nathan Horton and Sally Atherton. This wedding was witnessed by area persons. Earlier marriages occurred, but the parties returned to the Philadelphia or Williamsport area and were married in accordance with the Society of Friends.

   Ceres continued to grow with the lumbering industry. The early lumber was floated downriver to Pittsburgh and down the Ohio River. As the local white pine was removed, the hemlock was cut into more lumber and the bark was utilized in the tanning industry. Much of the bark was hauled downriver through Ceres to downstream tanneries.

    In the late 1800s and early 1900s gas and oil industries became another area industry. The abundance of gas for fuel and suitable sources of sand (stone) gave rise to a glass industry in both Ceres and Shinglehouse. The railroads and the trolley passed through Ceres, adding to the growth. However, as the lumber was harvested and the wells drilled, there became less and less need for the railroads. The loss of the railroads, the demise of the timber, and several large fires all lead to the reduction of the size of Ceres.

   Currently, Ceres is a small rural community with a minimum of activity and industry. One large sawmill and a gravel pit with a cement plant make up the area industry. The businesses consist of a lawn and garden center, a general store, a garage with car sales, a restaurant, and a produce market.


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